Saturday 30 May 2020

THREADS by Charlotte Whitney

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.

In a Nutshell: Family drama set in 1930s rural Michigan

Threads is a set on a farm in Michigan during the Depression, about a family struggling to survive.  The novel is told in alternating first person points of view of the three daughters: Flora, who is seventeen, Nellie, the youngest, who is seven, and Irene, somewhere in the middle.  Nellie is a tad wild, with a vivid imagination; Irene is a rather smug goody-goody on the surface, but is clearly suffering from 'middle-child syndrome', while Flora is very much the 'big sister', nearly an adult, who sees how the world works outside the concerns of the other two.  Each sister's character is clearly defined, with her own distinctive voice.

The novel is primarily concerned with the way of life of that place and time; it is character rather than plot-driven, an illustration of the family's immediate world and their fears, joys and struggles.  These people were POOR.  If you've never dined on potatoes every night, or looked on a bean sandwich as a treat, you should never think of yourself as hard-up again!  Within the girls' narratives, Ms Whitney has shown us a bigger picture of the country in the 1930s; they tell of the 'train riders'; unemployed, itinerant young men who travelled the country by stowing away on trains, begging for food wherever they stopped.  The way the community pitched in to help each other.  The fears that consumed them all; if they couldn't sell enough produce, they would lose their homes.

I found Flora's chapters the most interesting as her thoughts concerned not just her own, insular world (what happened at school, etc) but that bigger picture.  On occasion, though, Irene and Nellie's childlike viewpoints skillfully revealed much more.

If I have any criticism, it's that I would have liked a bit more actual plot; events coming to a climax and then being resolved, at some point.  There is a little mystery concerning an event from the first chapter which is not solved until the end, but I felt there were missed opportunities to make the story more of a page-turner.  However, I did enjoy it, throughout, and would most certainly recommend it as an insightful and highly readable look at this recent and still relevant time in America's history.

Wednesday 20 May 2020

Burntbridge Boys by John F Leonard

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.

In a Nutshell: Football-themed horror novella

I've read quite a few of John F Leonard's shorter length horror tales, and always enjoy both his original story ideas and characterisation.  Burntbridge boys is set in 1979 and is about Sammy 'the butcher' Rafferty, a former footballer, football club manager and general bad boy, whose glory days are over; he is currently on the run from the police and from unfriendly criminal types.  When Sammy finds himself in the decaying stadium of a defunct club, it seems that his dreams might not be over after all....  

Much of the story includes flashbacks to the 1960s, detailing Sammy's career and how deeply he became involved in the corruption to do with the game: the pay offs, the dodgy transfers, the darker side of life for many of those involved.  Sammy's backstory is as much a part of the whole as the supernatural side, which I liked; in itself, it's something of a horror story.

I very much liked the unravelling of the ghostly mystery in the last 20% of the story, the strongest part; Sammy's meeting with Burntbridge's Chairman Millicent is stunningly good.  I felt that some of the earlier parts would benefit from a bit of fine-tuning, perhaps another draft or the hand of an experienced copy editor to tidy up some over-use of the subordinate clause and to make the delivery more concise.  A little more attention to detail could raise this author's work to the next level.

Having said that, it really is an excellent story, and I love the way Mr Leonard doesn't shy away from the distasteful, and builds tension so well - I think if you have an interest in football, you'll love it, especially if you like your fiction on the dark side, but even if you actively dislike it, as I do, you'll still enjoy!

Wednesday 13 May 2020

ABANDONED PENNYSYLVANIA by Janine Pendleton @ObsidianUrbex

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK

How I discovered this book:  Had seen the artist's photography on Twitter.

In A Nutshell: Wonderful photographs and a little about the history of Pennysylvania.

I have a fascination for abandoned houses, dereliction, places where once there was life, now fallen into disrepair.  Having seen some of Janine Pendleton's photos on Twitter, I explored her website and bought this book.  It came with two prints of my choice.  This was one I chose:

At the beginning is a brief history of the state, and the photographs are divided into sections: churches, prisons, a trolley car graveyard, hospitals, cars, etc.  Each place is named, and Ms Pendleton has explained why it fell into decay.

It's a terrific book, with just the right amount of text to go with the photos, which are amazing.  I bought a copy for my brother, and he loves it too!  A great purchase for anyone who has an interest in the subject matter.  Highly recommended.


Sunday 10 May 2020

PLUMAS DE MUERTE: Tequila Journals and Dreams by Phil Motel @philmotel

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads
On BookBub 

How I discovered this book: Already a fan.

In a Nutshell:  Non-fiction: memoir, journal entries and poems.

The Blurb
Life in a long-stay motel, overseen by the on-site muscle: 'if this was a movie, he'd be played by Steve Buscemi'. Twelve-hour shifts at a mundane job alongside a host of strange characters with their own struggle to make it to the end of the day. Anecdotes from journals of adventures past: wannabe musicians, ill-fated relationships and the bottom of a bottle.

Musings on life, death, dreams, and the frustrations of the writing process: the journal entries were written while during the creation of the author's debut novel, Rum Hijack.

Dream Diary
The second part of Plumas de Muerte is as it says: a small collection of dreams: what goes on while we are asleep?

A raw ride that makes no attempt to gloss over the darker side of the author's life at the time, while acting as a cautionary tale about the nightmare of substance abuse - and the final road of alcoholism/addiction.

My review:
The 'Tequila Journals', the first part of this book, makes up 80% of the whole.  There are two main settings: an unnamed place of work, and the motel in which the diarist lives.  Doesn't sound very thrilling?  It is.  PM is one of those scribes who has the knack of making an after-work beer in a fast food establishment or wrangles over his room rent with the seedy 'Steve Buscemi' as riveting as any 'fast-paced' action thriller. I once noted that memoir writer Val Poore managed to bring tears to my eyes in a short chapter about the lighting of oil lamps.  This was similar; it's not the subject matter, but the innate talent of the writer.  

When I got nearer to the end I felt that, although maybe not meant as such, it does make up an actual story.  We see how PM's frustration with his working life and writing increases, how he becomes jaded with (and fails to chase up) possible romantic opportunities, how his depression about events from the past deepens, his drinking becomes more and more out of hand, until happiness visits his life once more, only to be ripped away—and sends his life spiralling completely out of control.  At the end, I turned over the page and thought, 'What, no more?  But what happens next?'.  I'm hoping he will write the next 'chapter' at some point.

One of my favourite sections in the Tequila Journals was a look back at a crazy, chaotic time spent in Colorado, which reminded me of a Kerouac novel, though there's nothing pretentious, plagiarised or 'wannabe' about PM's writing style; it's unique, and appears to be the sort of effortless that tells me he doesn't realise how good he is.  Throughout, every character is perfectly captured in just a couple of lines of dialogue.

The dream diary at the end: I am one of those who dislikes dream sequences in films or books, and suppresses yawns when people go into detail about a dream they had, but I liked these; they were well put together, not rambling, and the style and structure varied.  Also, having read the book, I could see what was behind some of them—some aspects of loss, isolation and anger.

I've read the novel, Rum Hijack, that PM was writing at the time these journal entries were made, and I loved it, but in a way I like some aspects of this collection even more.  Includes some relevant artwork and photos.  Highly, highly recommended.

Thursday 7 May 2020


3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.

In a Nutshell: Historical Fiction, 1909 Baltimore, murder mystery

A most professionally presented book, which centres around the murder of a showgirl.  Dr Sarah Kennecott is a doctor who happens to be on the autism spectrum, though of course this was not recognised in those days.  She becomes fascinated with the case and can't let it rest, despite much family and political opposition; she also has to contend with the attitude of the time towards professional, educated women.  Through her passionate interest in Lizzie Sullivan's murder, she becomes involved with Jack Harden, a down-on-his-luck private detective.  This association is not looked upon kindly.

The author clearly has a great love for his subject, and I appreciated the pictures drawn of the development of this new city, with its excitement and opportunity, but also its dark side: corruption, narcotics, prejudices.  It is most intelligently written (the author is a professional historian and archivist), and a most commendable debut.

The only problem for me with this book was that it lacked that spark that might have made it a real page-turner.  I felt a lack of suspense, and didn't become involved with the characters; they felt distant, and never became more than names on a page for me.  This could be just personal taste, though, as I often struggle with third person characters written in the omniscient narrator style.  I am sure that if the author works on his actual storytelling he could produce something marvellous in the future; the rest of it, I could not fault.